Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan - Review

The Wild Magic Trilogy Book 1
276 pages
Publisher: Walker Books
Juvenile Fiction – Middle Grade – 9-11


On the night that Aunty dies the Raggedy Witches come for Mup's mam. Pale, cold, relentless, they will do anything to coax Mam back to Witches Borough.

When they kidnap Mup's dad, Mup and her mam must leave the mundane world to rescue him.

But Mam is strange on this side of the border - striding, powerful, and distant. Even if they can save Dad, Mup is not sure anything will ever be the same again.


Celine Kiernan has done it again, and then some. Once again she’s managed to ensnare me in one of her magical stories, leaving me mesmerised, enthralled, delighted and, dare I say it, bewitched. J

I sometimes forget that just because a book was written for children doesn’t mean it can’t get toe-curling scary.

“Like strands of seaweed around a corpse, they held Mam at their centre, and she, as lifeless as a corpse beneath the water, floated in their arms.”

‘They’ being the witches who have come to abduct Mup’s mother now that they think she’s no longer under Aunty’s protection.

And so starts a story in which Mup’s life will be set on its head and during which she will learn a lot about the world, about good and evil, about compromise and about love and family. I love that this book is so very many things. First and foremost, Begone the Raggedy Witches is a magical adventure story about a young girl who sets out to save her family from the evil queen who is determined to tear them apart and destroy them. It is filled with the weird and wonderful. As I said, there’s magic (well what do you expect in a book about witches?), but there is also people shifting into animal forms, and flying caravans, not to mention rhyming crows and outlaw magic. The way the story is structured, with the tension starting on page one and not really letting up at all, this book is like a juvenile thriller in which, with a few exceptions, it’s not quite clear who can and who can’t be trusted.

And that is one of the strokes of genius I admire Celine Kiernan for most. She has an enviable talent to infuse a page turner with deeper meaning without taking the reader out of the story or laying it on too thickly. Almost without being aware of it the (young) reader comes face to face with discrimination, politics, right versus wrong, neglect, and diversity. And while all these topics are dealt with in a thoughtful manner, I was most struck by the way the story deals with trying to distinguish between good and bad, making it perfectly clear that the answer isn’t always clear-cut; that good people can sometimes find themselves doing bad things and that even those who are bad may occasionally do a good deed.

I could go on forever, because there wasn’t anything in this story I didn’t love but I’ll limit myself to the following, probably somewhat cryptic (and I hope curiosity evoking) statements:

-      My heart broke for the boy/bird called Crow and couldn’t help cheering Mup on as she slowly wins his trust.
-      I loved how Mup would ask herself how a certain situation or outcome would make her feel in order to figure out whether something she had seen or done was either good or bad.
-      I was struck by the idea of forcing a group of people (the men/crows) to rhyme in order to curtail what they can say.
-      On a lighter note, Mup’s baby brother, Tipper, changing into a dog when they enter Witches Borough, the way he talks, and the questions he asks, were a stroke of genius and a pure delight.
-      And I’m delighted that in Mup we’ve been given a diverse main character (she’s half Nigerian – half Irish) who recognises that people run into being deemed other and discriminated against for various reasons and in all worlds.

I’m sorta afraid that with all of the above I’ve made this book sound heavy and preachy. Allow me to reassure you Begone the Raggedy Witches is neither. This is a fascinating, highly original, well plotted, magical, and totally engrossing adventure story. The fact that it also touches, in a most sensitive and unobtrusive way, on several issues kids (and adults) will be able to relate to, is the icing on an already glorious cake. The only thing I regret is that I’ll have to wait for almost a year before I’ll be able to read the next instalment.

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